Once upon a time, on the isle of Manahatta, amongst the somewhere between 300 and 1200 Lenape who made what would become some of the most expensive real estate in the world a full time home, there were more eco – systems than what exists in Yellowstone Park. There were deer, cougars, eagles, egrets and bears (not the picnic basket stealing kind). In her book The Measure of Manhattan, author Marguerite Holloway sums up all this nature with some surprising figures for those of us who are used to and need the concrete. “Among 10,000 species (not including insects, molds, mosses or micro-organisms), there sandy beaches, eelgrass meadows, red-maple hardwood swamps, grassland and pine – scrub oak barrens there were 21 lakes or ponds and 66 miles of streams” she writes. I like nature, don’t get me wrong, but I love that it is somewhere else, especially the molds and mosses. I am not alone with these sentiments either. What I am astounded by is the fact that change did happen so quickly considering the big picture of history but also that it once was. Change did not happen in an instant and there were vestiges of this islands rural past late into the 19th century.
In 1867, Andrew Haswell Green, the Commissioner of the Central Park project (it was called the Greensward Plan after all) recommended the park idea. The City had taken control of the land in 1870 and a design competition was held in 1871. No one got the contract as the Board of Commissioners of Public Works rejected all the design proposals submitted, including the scheme introduced by the heroes of Central Park Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Their plan included a connecting park between the new Morningside Park and Central Park but this plan was not to be - what with the El in the way. Architect Jacob Wrey Mould, whose floral and fauna carvings are all over the staircases leading down to Bethesda Terrace in Central Park was hired to re do the Olmsted and Vaux plans and work began in 1883. Unfortunately Mould died in 1886 before work was completed and in 1887 Olmsted and Vaux were brought in to complete the project.